Wrecks and Reefs

While one may find a squid nest over sandy bottom that is holding fish or spawning sand bass out in the mud, there is no denying that the bulk of the fish we target is around structure.  Nowadays with super detailed chart plotters and books filled with GPS numbers for spots up and down the coast, its easier than ever to drive to (and over) just about any kind of structure your heart desires.  Wrecks, reefs, rocks and rock piles all available to those willing to do the homework necessary, with very few secrets left, if any.  That hard part is knowing what to do when you get there to maximize your efforts.

Big bass, WAY up current of the wreck.

Big bass, WAY up current of the wreck.

A wreck will hold scores of different small fish types and crustaceans that are the forage for larger predators.  It has caves, holes and crevices that make great ambush points for these fish we target, but fishing right in the wreck is not always the best plan of attack.  If there is very little or no current or the water is cold, then that may be a great time to fish your baits right in (or as close as you can get to) the wreck.  Fish like sculpin, sheepshead and lingcod rarely venture far from their holes right in the structure, so to target these in any conditions you’ll want to place your bait in harms way.

Critters that live right in the structure

Critters that live right in the structure

Other fish will be more active and may travel further up current than you’d expect when they are in feeding mode.  You will see this in warm water or when the current is really ripping.  Its at these times that your opportunity for a good score is best, but most fall short by fishing the wreck itself and not where the fish are.  What?  Let me explain.

Even on a cold January morning, this yellowtail was way upcurrent of the reef.

Even on a cold January morning, this yellowtail was way upcurrent of the reef.

 

When a strong current washes over a reef or wreck the food begins to flow over the spot and the little critters come out to eat what is coming their way.  Predators follow, and join in the bounty.  Perch, wrasse, mackerel, smelt and more swim directly up current of their home to snatch any and all little bits of food the current is bringing.  Its a competition, survival of the fittest, and the ones that get the furthest out get first bidding.  The bass and exotics follow, often being the more aggressive of the whole biomass.  So when you drive over your waypoint be sure to drive up current and watch the fishfinder carefully.  First you meter the spot, then the bait and small critters, then the perch, then finally the bass and bigger fish.  Do not turn around and set up on the wreck, set up on the fish!

Mid summer with warm clear water and lots of current this could be 100 yards or more off the spot you have on your GPS.  With a perfect anchor job the wreck or reef will be directly down current of your transom, something few guys can do properly.  Add some chum to the feeding frenzy and what you get is some really good fishing.  Think about it, how often have you seen the bigger fish like barracuda and yellowtail boiling off the bow?  This happens on sportboats and private boat alike.  Pull the hook and reset further away from the spot, meaning fish the fish not the structure.  Sounds easier than it is, and it works on kelplines along the shore at our local island or coastline just the same.  A kelp bed is just another type of reef.

Eagle Reef, Catalina.  This bass came way off the kelp to eat a live squid.

Eagle Reef, Catalina. This bass came way off the kelp to eat a live squid.

Something you will see if you set up perfectly as described above is another boat will come and drive over the spot you are fishing, thinking you are “not on it”.  Then you get to cringe as they drop the anchor right on top of the spot.  For those of you who did not know why we ask that you never drive behind and anchored boat, this is why.  Someone properly fishing a rock or reef will be a ways up current from the spot where the fish actually live, and by driving behind them your are seriously disrupting the bite.

Do NOT do this!

Do NOT do this!

 

Some simply do not like to anchor and have no intentions of chumming at all.  The calico bass guys are one such group, and they too could pull some truly big bass out away from the wreck if they followed this philosophy.  Fish the fish, not the spot.  Not to say that the calico bass guys do not catch some really big bass with plastics right on the reefs, but they should see some of the giant bass I’ve caught with a flylined mackerel WAY out in front of the spots they fish.  Crack of dawn bite on a big bait, big bass boils on the surface under the birds and I come tight.  Nothing better.  Try slow trolling a bigger bait up ahead of the spot when conditions make it impossible to set up correctly.  The results can be astounding.  Just remember that the bigger bass and exotics are up current of the structure, and fish the fish, not the spot.

Bigger yellowtail on a slow trolled live squid, again, way ahead of the reef.

Bigger yellowtail on a slow trolled live squid, again, way ahead of the reef.

 

WINTERTIME BASS They were always here…..

 

January bull bass

January bull bass


Things have changed with our regulations, not our fishery.  For many years the end of our summer fishing season meant putting all the fancy gear up and breaking out the rock cod tackle.  Local landing boats and privateers headed out to deeper water for some fish taco meat like whitefish, sheepshead, vermillion (reds) and ling cod, and a few even got excited for a bucket full of tasty sand dabs.  That all changed in Southern California when new regulations were put in place to close rockfishing during its prime season (closed from December 31st to February 28th this year).

While a few savvy anglers have always fished wintertime bass and kept it relatively quiet, most had no idea such a fishery even existed or how good it can be.  As groundfish closures were implemented, some sportboat owners began to seek alternatives to rockfish and were pleasantly surprised.

Wintertime twilight

Wintertime twilight

Wintertime twilight trips tested the waters and the word began to spread that there is a viable alternative to 1/2 and 3/4 day “freezer fillers”.

 

Cold water bass are fished completely different than summertime bass.  With a drastically slowed metabolism these fish feed less often, and will make little effort to eat a bait.  Lighter line, smaller hooks and a slower presentation make the difference between getting a bite, or thinking there are no fish at all.

Where to fish changes too, as these bass will stay close to rocky structure, wrecks and reefs.  So tight to the structure as to make local tackle store owners happy with all the lost hooks, leadheads and leader.  Island bass will be right in the kelp, making kelp cutter rigs a necessity more than an option.  Summertime bass will often be suspended above and way up current of structure, and sand bass spawn over soft muddy bottom.  That is not the case with wintertime bass.

Taking the time to set up perfectly make all the difference

Taking the time to set up perfectly make all the difference

Fishing coastal wrecks, reefs and structure will require setting up perfectly on a spot, and all butt the most experienced at this will struggle.  It cannot be expressed enough how important it is to practice and perfect the skill of proper anchoring on structure.  When fishing winter bass this skill will mean the difference between catching a few bass, or catching nothing at all.

Bait fishermen will have much success with live or fresh dead squid fished on a leadhead.

Slow twitch squid/lead head combo bass

Slow twitch squid/lead head combo bass

Rubber chuckers  get bites slowing down their presentation, and fishing right on (and in) structure.  While the bites will be less frequent than times when the water is warm, the size of the catch will be consistently bigger on average during the winter.  Bites will be lazy, but with the bass so tight to the structure you’ll need near perfect timing to pull fish out before they cut you off on the reef they live in.  Other critters will be here too, and remember to release all fish that are restricted by current regulations.

Rebounding rockfish stocks made for good fall fishing.

Rebounding rockfish stocks made for good fall fishing.

Rockfish closures appear to be working, and catches of lingcod, reds and other species were great this past December.

Now the real danger is the new focus on wintertime bass, and only time will tell if more and more anglers targeting them will damage the fishery.  Please be responsible and release what you don’t plan on eating, or release all  bass except those mortally wounded while being caught.  Being part of the solution, and not part of the problem will help ensure this fun winter alternative will continue for generations                       to come.